Friday, 17 February 2006

Chief Rabbi criticises Church of England

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has written an article criticising the action of the General Synod to review its investments in firms whose products are used by Israel in the occupied territories. Some news reports on this:

BBC Church’s Israel policy criticised and listen to this Radio 4 Today discussion (Real Audio - 5 minutes) Jeff Barak of the Jewish Chronicle and Keith Malcouronne, a General Synod member.

Telegraph Jonathan Petre Synod has damaged relations with Jews, says Chief Rabbi

Guardian Stephen Bates Sacks accuses synod of bulldozer ill-judgment

The Times Helen Nugent Chief Rabbi flays Church over vote on Israel assets

Independent Ian Herbert Chief Rabbi attacks Church of England for its Israel protest

The full text of the article, which appears in the Jewish Chronicle today, was issued to the press beforehand. It can be found below the fold.

Strong nerves needed

Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks argues that British Jewry must remain calm in the face of recent, highly disturbing events, and continue to engage with the wider community

The strength of a people is tested in troubled times. These are troubled times. Events have succeeded one another at breakneck pace: the Iranian threat to wipe Israel off the map; the election by the Palestinians of Hamas, a group committed to the destruction of Israel; the violence following the publication of the Danish cartoons; and the Abu Hamza trial.
Locally there was the vote of the synod of the Church of England to heed a call to divest from companies associated with Israel; the Populus poll of British Muslims; and Guardian articles accusing Israel of being an apartheid state. These are of altogether lesser consequence, but they have added to our sense of vulnerability. How should we respond?
First let us acknowledge our anger and pain. Israel has taken great risks for peace, yet it seems at every stage to be rewarded with further hostility. The Jewish community in Britain has contributed immensely to national life, yet after 350 years we still feel at risk. Nor are our fears ungrounded. We have long and bitter memories. We recognise danger when we see it.
To feel anger and pain is natural. To act on it, though, is another matter entirely. It is what our enemies anticipated. Often, it is what they intended. Action in the heat of emotion can be rash and ill-judged. It can make things worse. It can lead people to focus on the moment instead of thinking long-term. Especially if a group is small, it must choose its battlegrounds carefully. Wherever possible, it should not fight alone. It must win friends, and make its case from the highest of moral grounds. That is not weakness but wisdom. Be deliberate in judgement, said the sages.
They might have added: especially when the stakes are high.
We carry with us decisive grounds for courage. The Jewish people has survived longer than any other religion or civilization the West has known. It was threatened by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, ancient Greece and Rome, the medieval empires of Christianity and Islam, and in the twentieth century by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Each once bestrode the narrow world like a colossus, but all were eventually consigned to the pages of history. The Jewish people — seemingly small, weak, powerless — still lives. These encounters were not without their human cost, sometimes immense. But after each, the Jewish people rebuilt itself, never more so than after the Holocaust. If the strength of the people is tested in troubled times, ours is a people of awe-inspiring strength.
We must now work together as a community, developing strategies, pooling our wisdom, cultivating our allies, sharing our strengths. Several meetings to this end have already taken place in recent days, and the work will continue in the coming months. We must respond with dignity and calm, thinking long-term, avoiding predictable reactions, never stooping to the level of our opponents. In tense times, the advantage goes to the group with the strongest nerves. After all that has befallen our people, we have strong nerves.
The most important fact about the present situation is that on the big issues, neither Israel nor the Jewish people stand alone. An Iran with nuclear capability is a threat not only to Israel but to the world. Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair have seen this clearly. So too have Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel. Chirac’s statement on January 19 that France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country sponsoring a terrorist attack against French interests, and Angela Merkel’s comparison of Ahmadinejad to Hitler were immensely significant signals. These politicians know that the diatribes against Israel are a thinly disguised attack on the West and its freedoms.
As for the election of Hamas, this became inevitable because of the corruption of the previous regime. Every Palestinian knew this. The point, though, is that so did leading European politicians, who none the less continued to fund the Arafat administration. The politics of “sup with the devil so long as it’s the devil you know” works in the short term but never in the long. America discovered this after funding the mujahideen radicals —Osama bin Laden’s early associates — in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Europe must not make this mistake again.
The violence following the Danish cartoons exceeded all bounds. Rightly, key representatives of the British Muslim community have dissociated themselves from it. The cartoons should not have been published. But if free speech has limits for the Danish press, it has limits for those who protest against the Danish press. As John Locke, the architect of tolerance, said more than three centuries ago: “It is unreasonable that any should have a free liberty of their religion who do not acknowledge it as a principle of theirs that nobody ought to persecute or molest another because he dissents from him in religion.”
On all these issues we take our stand with those prepared to fight for tolerance, non-violent conflict resolution, moderation, mutual respect, self-restraint and the civilities of a free society. This is not a Jewish struggle but a human one, and we will work with people of goodwill, whatever their faith or lack of it.
The vote of the synod of the Church of England to “heed” a call to divestment from certain companies associated with Israel was ill-judged even on its own terms. The immediate result will be to reduce the Church’s ability to act as a force for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for as long as the decision remains in force. The essence of mediation is the willingness to listen to both sides.
The timing could not have been more inappropriate. Israel has risked civil war to carry out the Gaza withdrawal, the first time in the history of the Middle East that a nation has evacuated territory gained in a defensive war without a single concession, even the most nominal, on the other side. Israel faces two enemies, Iran and Hamas, open in their threat to eliminate it. It needs support, not vilification.
For years I have called on religious groups in Britain to send a message of friendship and coexistence to conflict zones throughout the world, instead of importing those conflicts into Britain itself. The effect of the synod vote will be the opposite. The Church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, namely Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.
That is why we cannot let the matter rest. If there was one candle of hope above all others after the Holocaust it was that Jews and Christians at last learned to speak to one another after some 17 centuries of hostility that led to exiles, expulsions, ghettoes, forced conversions, staged disputations, libels, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, massacres and pogroms. We must not let that candle be extinguished.
The Church could have chosen, instead of penalizing Israel, to invest in the Palestinian economy. That would have helped the Palestinians. It would have had the support of most Israelis and most Jews. Indeed it is an Australian-born Jew, James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, who is supervising the reconstruction of the Palestinian economy on behalf of the Group of Four, and who personally raised the funds to buy for the Palestinians the Israeli agricultural facilities in Gaza. The Church’s gesture will hurt Israelis and Jews without helping the Palestinians.
As a community, we must engage more actively in the promotion of good community relations, especially at the local level. We must teach ourselves and others the full history of our people’s four-thousand-year bond with the land of Israel; how we were ousted by empire after empire but always returned; how Israel in the days of the prophets and today tirelessly sought peace, only to be rewarded with war. We must cultivate the friendship of people of generosity of spirit in all faiths. We must work with journalists who know that truth is never partisan. We must seek the support of politicians who speak to the highest, not the lowest, instincts of the public. We have enemies, but we have many friends.
Above all, we must take our stand on the value system Abraham and Judaism conferred on the world. The crisis humanity faces in the 21st century is not just political or economic, military or diplomatic. It is moral and spiritual. Can we be true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith? Can we heed the call of God to mend not destroy?
Aggression is the child of fear, and the only lasting antidote is the faith that says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
We will never cease to love Israel, pray for peace, and work for the benefit of humanity. Our nerves must stay strong, our judgment calm and our language cool. And we will win. For if Jewish history has a message to the world, it is that there is something in the human spirit that cannot be defeated – something that gave and still gives our tiny, afflicted, tempest-tossed people the strength to outlive all its enemies while enlarging the moral imagination of mankind.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 17 February 2006 at 1:26pm GMT
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England

It's really disturbing how any comment about Israel is automatically then associated with what one thinks or doesn't think about Jews.

Posted by: Merseymike on Friday, 17 February 2006 at 3:39pm GMT

Dr. Sacks urges the Anglican Church to invest in the Palestinian economy. I cannot help recalling how much European investment in Palestinian infrastructure was simply destroyed during successive Israeli acts of retaliation. How can one be reasonably sure that this would not again be the case?

Posted by: c b sweeting on Friday, 17 February 2006 at 4:21pm GMT

In what way does Israel "enlarge the moral vision of mankind" by using bulldozers to tear down Palestinian houses?

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Friday, 17 February 2006 at 4:58pm GMT

I am really proud of Jonathan Sacks and other Jewish leaders who are calling for calm. My prayers are that the Jews are treated with respect and compassion (without our becoming rubber stamps to atrocities). If they are right about the imminent return of the Ma(o)shiach, we can expect to see a rise in anti-semitism. Thus there is a call for all godly people of all faiths to be genuinely be praying for peace and God's Grace and Will be done.

Merseymike. You must understand that for Jews the State of Israel is a fundamental part of their identity. For Jewish people, one is either living in Israel, or one is in diaspora (exile). That said, there is a good dialogue happening over how and when the current zionist state of Israel was formed.

Here are some recent links on how the Jews are trying to take on the hard questions regarding the State of Israel and their relationships to non-Jews.

For Balance: (this latter paper is a robust alternative to the "establishment" study) and (refers to Jewish opinions)

balanced against
Which notes their (legitimate) concerns about the sincerity of recent Christian overtures "...Christian Zionism amounts to a very unreliable partner. As long as Israeli Jews play their ordained role in the eschatological plan, resettling the entire Land as a precondition for the Second Coming - when, by the way, they presumably will either become Christians or die as heathens..."

["Liberals" who support active women and/or homosexuals should be able to relate to these Jewish concerns too).

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Friday, 17 February 2006 at 8:53pm GMT

"You must understand that for Jews the State of Israel is a fundamental part of their identity."

That may be true of *Zionist Jews*, Cheryl. Not all Jews are Zionists, however. (It seems to be the line of Zionists---both Jewish AND conservative Christian---to somehow deny, or at least question, the Jewish-ness of non-Zionist Jews, regrettably).

And even among Jews who ARE Zionists, there is still a *wide range of opinion* regarding Israel's approach toward the Palestinians (Some who *would* explore just how LONG-TERM that "long-term truce" that Hamas is offering could be, for example? Maybe "long-term" could become PERMAMENT, if actually engaged?)

Furthermore, not everyone who believes in the "destruction of the State of Israel" necessarily believes that Jews don't have the right to live in Palestine (simply that there should be a multi-religious state there instead---I *do* believe in the right of Israel to exist, FWIW: within its 1967 borders!).

We should never put the human invention of the "state" ahead of the divine creation, which is God's Image: human beings. Jewish, Christian, Muslim---everyone of us.

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 5:57am GMT

"If they are right about the imminent return of the Ma(o)shiach, we can expect to see a rise in anti-semitism." - Cheryl

Well, imminent as in sometime during the next 234 years.

Posted by: Augustus Meriwether on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 6:00am GMT

J.C. If you read the links you would note that I have tried to put forward some of the alternative paradigms.

One difficulty that the non-establishment Zionists (especially within Israel) have been complaining about is the difficulty of articulating their alternative voice. In fact this link from above includes a section on exactly this problem.

Here are some other alternatives too:

If one wants to find genuine long-term solutions to the problems facing the Jews, one can not find it by dismissing others' postings out-of-hand. Nor should one underestimate that there are parties who have passionate religious world views that in turn shape how they perceive and react to each other and the rest of humanity.

I have been profoundly disappointed in the last few months to have read writings which could be summarised that when 'judgment day' comes, if you're not a Jew in Israel, then too bad. On the other hand, I have seen similar perspectives from neo-fascist Christians and extremist Muslims too. Every religion has a component of selfish souls who don't care about anyone else as long as they are "safe".

The difficulty for the Jews, is that they are still emotionally reeling from the Holocaust. Nor can one blame them when we see Orwellian countries trying to deny that it even happened, or a general rise in anti-semitism that often can be traced back to some ring leaders stirring up trouble and using the Jews as the bait to inflame the angry passions of their people.

Augustus, On the question of the timing of the return of the Messiah, the Jews have a lot to teach Christians. Firstly, their understanding of what the Mo(a)shiach is meant to do goes beyond the limited understanding of Jesus' first incarnation. Secondly, they understand that the Messiah will give humanity what they need (not necessarily what they want) and that will depend on what the generation requires at the time. Thirdly, they understand that a key element for the return of the Messiah is that people must be genuinely praying and wanting the Messiah's return.

That is one reason the nihilistic neo-fascist and bloodlusting extremists are a problem. They have made humanity fear the Messiah's return, because they have said it will involved the destruction of this world. (Whereas there are others who see that the Messiah's return will bring about a fundamental shift in humanity's consciousness with a consequent restoration of this world).

Like the Jews, I am embracing being passionate about the bible/torah and faith that God fulfills all His promises. Personally, too much has happened for me to believe otherwise.

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 1:12pm GMT

"On the question of the timing of the return of the Messiah, the Jews have a lot to teach Christians."

Is this not rather a bizarre debate to be embarking upon? The ejection of Christians from the synagogues took place relatively soon after the emergence of a group which acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. The church does not expect successive incarnations but accepts the Cross as the ultimate act of atonement, to which nothing can be added.

In the end God's judgement will be upon us all, Christians and Jews and everyone else. In the mean time, nothing can excuse some of the actions of the modern state of Israel against Palestinian citizens: bulldozing civilian houses: embracing Palestinian land and blocking rights of way with a vast wall: helicopter rocket attacks causing indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 4:22pm GMT

Is it a bizarre debate? When there are those who still cite what Jews did shortly after Jesus' resurrection to justify their continuing ill-feeling towards them? How can the Jews then forgive us for either our collusion or our passivity to the holocaust, which was only 70 years ago?

The bible tells us that at times when God intervenes He wipes the slate clean, that is He forgives us of all our past sins. Further, that God's offer is made to the rebellious, the sinner, the afflicted the alien. As confirmed by Jesus when he said:
Matthew 5:44-45 "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
and Matthew 9:12-13 "On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”"

On the question of the current mistakes being made by the Jews, they can tell you that I was already exhorting them to rise above violent human solutions and trust in God (long before last Thursday).

However, I am not going to condemn them out of hand, for if they stand condemned for their mistakes; then what hope is there for the rest of us? Instead of trying to destroy others, both Christians (and others) would do well to look to getting their own house in order. Slandering or destruction of another's house does not clear the debris from one's own doorways, and in fact adds further rubble to be cleared from the paths to peace.

And yes, judgment is going to be upon us all, so we would all be advised to do our best to make peace within ourselves, with each other, and with our neighbors. Remember Jesus warning in Luke 12:58 "As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison".

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 8:07pm GMT

Alan Marsh: and nothing can excuse suicide bombings of buses in Jerusalem or a toy shop and a pizza parlor in Netanya or the attempted bombing of an Israeli hospital by a domestic burns victim coming for treatment.
Do you seriously imagine the wall/fence would be built if Israelis felt secure? Or that Palestinians would not be better off if so much of the money given by the US and the EU had not been stolen by Arafat and his cronies? how much of that money is now 'resting' in Suha Arafat's bank accounts?

Posted by: Peter Bergman on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 11:30pm GMT

So you think wrongdoing by Palestinians justifies war crimes by the State of Israel against civilians?

Posted by: Alan Marsh on Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 11:42pm GMT

Peter Bergman, *both* Palestinian and Israeli armed forces deliver high explosives to enemy targets, designed to advance their military objectives (total victory), by *the delivery systems they have available*.

Why the qualitative distinction? [Surely you're not advocating arming Palestinians w/ air-to-surface missiles (and the helicopters from which to fire them)? :-0 That would help even the "playing" (killing) field!]

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Sunday, 19 February 2006 at 6:05am GMT

Please focus any further comments more strictly on the original article which deals with Dr Sacks' remarks about the CofE. This is not the place to debate Israeli/Palestine difficulties as such.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 19 February 2006 at 12:45pm GMT
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